Steering Toward the Omega Point: A Roundtable Discussion of …

Posted: January 21, 2019 at 10:44 pm


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Table of ContentsIntroduction: Science in a Spiritual Key, by David Sloan Wilson and Kurt JohnsonSynopsis of Does Altruism Exist? Culture Genes and the Welfare of Others, by David Sloan WilsonCommentary 1: The Sacred and the Secular Can Unite on Altruism, by Kurt JohnsonCommentary 2:When It Comes to Climate Change, Altruism Better Exist, By Richard ClugstonCommentary 3:The Wolves of Wall Street and Superorganisms: How Social Justice Should Mimic Our Cells,by Barbara Marx Hubbard, Zachary Stein, and Marc GafniCommentary 4:Does Altruism Exist? Wrong Question; Right Answer, by David KortenCommentary 5: Insects Model their Societies on Altruism. We need to become Planetary Altruists, by Rev. Mac LegertonCommentary 6:Altruism Comes with Age, by Kevin BrabazonCommentary 7:Altruisms Path and the Rebirth of Spirituality, by Doug King and Mike MorrellCommentary 8:Altruism and Integral Spirituality, by Ken WilberDiscussion Questions about Does Altruism Exist?Reply to Commentaries on Does Altruism Exist?: Integrating Science and Spirituality through Action, by David Sloan WilsonReferences

Introduction: Science in a Spiritual Keyby David Sloan Wilson and Kurt Johnson

Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others (hereafter DAE), uses modern evolutionary theory as a navigational guide to answer a question that has been posed for centuries. It also offers a post-resolution account of multilevel selection theory, which has been controversial among evolutionary theorists for over half a century. This roundtable provides a discussion of DAE by commentators who have diverse backgrounds but share two things in common: 1) They are thoroughly accepting and informed about science; and 2) they are each in their own way spiritual.

The very concept of blending science and spirituality is likely to ring alarm bells in the minds of many people. Whatever spirituality is, it lives next door to religion. Religion and spirituality can be studied with the tools of science, but thats not the same thing as being religious and/or spiritual. People who call themselves spiritual but not religious are likely to be suspected by some of being self-indulgent New Agers who will believe anything and have questionable taste in music and art to boot. The same people might also sometimes regard scientists as boring, narrow minded, and clueless about the questions most worth asking about life.

The story of how we started to work together and organize this roundtable might help to explain how science and spirituality can be blended, like a two-part harmony. Both of us have our PhDs in evolutionary biology. DSW specializes on the evolution of social behavior and KJ specializes on insect systematics and biogeography, including the Blues, a group of butterflies that was also studied by the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, causing KJ to become a biographer of Nabokov as a scientist in addition to his own career as a scientist (go here and here for more).

Both of us have a strong interest in religion and spirituality. DSW studies them as a scientist, in academic articles and books such as Darwins Cathedral and The Neighborhood Project, which includes one chapter (We are Now Entering the Noosphere) on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and another (Body and Soul) on how words such as soul and spirit can be understood from a purely naturalistic perspective . KJ became a Christian monk between obtaining his Masters and PhD degrees and now helps to lead a worldwide movement called Interspirituality, as he recounts in his book with David Robert Ord titled The Coming Interspiritual Age (hereafter CIA). Thus, one might say that DSW studies spirituality while KJ lives it in a way that he regards as fully compatible with being a scientist.

We met in the spring of 2015 thanks to one of DSWs research projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation, which studies religion and spirituality in the context of everyday life in Binghamton New York. A pastor named Wilfredo Baez approached DSW with the idea of organizing a symposium on Interspirituality featuring KJ as the main speaker. The event was held in the First Congregational Church on the corner of Main and Oak streets, whose pastor, Arthur Suggs, had become enthusiastically involved. The audience included mostly residents of the city with only a sprinkling of academic types. Binghamton is like Everytown, USA and most of the people sitting in the pews looked like regular churchgoers. They had become disillusioned with the Christian religious experience, however, and were animated by the concept of Interspirituality.

What is Interspirituality? KJ was able to explain it in very simple terms. He said that all major religious traditions converge on a common awareness that everything is interconnected. When this awareness is taken seriously, certain ethical conclusions follow. Namely, it becomes difficult to defend parts of the system against other parts of the system. Reflecting and acting on this basis allows people to transcend their particular religious and spiritual traditions (what KJ called first-tier consciousness) and find common ground (what KJ called second-tier consciousness). This is true for people who devote their whole lives to contemplation, such as His Holiness the Dali Lama (e.g., his book titled Beyond Religion: Ethics for the Whole World) and Brother Wayne Teasdale, who was one of KJs spiritual mentors. Judging from the people attending the Binghamton event, it could also be true for residents of Everytown, USA.

Listening to KJ caused DSW to have a 2 + 2 = 4 moment, an epiphany that immediately seemed obvious in retrospect. Religious traditions were not alone in reaching the conclusion that everything is interconnected. They were joined by scientific traditions such as physics, complex systems thinking, and ecology. No wonder that scientists from these traditions had a way of developing their own forms of spirituality, such as the creed of Deep Ecology developed by the Norwegian eco-philosopher Arne Naess. Second-tier consciousness was truly a place where religion, spirituality, and science could meet on common ground.

Our first encounter is captured as an interview that DSW conducted with KJ at the end of the Binghamton symposium, which was published in the Evolution Institutes online magazine This View of Life. Afterward, we dove into each others work. KJ read DAE and could immediately appreciate its import for the Interspiritual movement. As he recounts in his contribution to the roundtable, Interspiritualists have already embraced evolutionary and ecological concepts, especially of the holistic variety. Their appreciation is reflected in book titles such as Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution by Ken Wilber and Birth 2012 and Beyond: Humanitys Great Shift to the Age of Conscious Evolution by Barbara Marx Hubbard. However, their holistic view of evolution ran counter to the main narrative in scientific thought that evolution is all about selfishness. The post-resolution account that KJ encountered in DAE was a far cry from what he had learned as a graduate student. Group selection was now accepted as a strong evolutionary force (especially for human evolution), altruism could be explained at face value as a product of group selection, the concepts of organism and society had merged, and planetary altruism required consciously selecting policies with the welfare of the planet in mind. For the Interspiritualist, the new scientific account reported in DAE was like sailing with the wind rather than against it.

DSW read CIA and was added as a speaker to an event in Colorado titled From Self-Care to Earth-Care, which also included Ken Wilber. KJ was especially eager to get DSW together with Wilber, whose books on what Wilber called Integral Spirituality have been translated into over 30 languages. When DSW began familiarizing himself with Wilbers writing, he was pleased to discover that although Wilber might be guilty of being an extreme generalist, he was thoroughly committed to methodological naturalism and was not tempted by the excesses of New Age beliefs or post-modernism. Health issues prevented Wilber from personally attending the event but he met privately with the other participants and prepared a lengthy video that was shown at the event and is available online. An excerpt is included in this roundtable. DSW has written about the event and its aftermath in a series of essays titled My Spiritual Journey on the Evolution Institutes Social Evolution Forum.

This roundtable, which is the first of three, features diverse thought leaders. Some specifically identify with the Interspiritual movement, while others are better characterized as engaged in discussions of evolutionary consciousness, social change from moral and ethical perspectives, and in meeting major global challenges at the level of politics and policy. Some of them know each other through mutual participation in international forums and committees, particularly those of the United Nations non-governmental agency community. The second and third roundtable forums will be published in other outlets so they can collectively reach the broadest and most diverse audience.

We end our introduction with an observation about the tone of the commentaries. The word spirit is derived from the Latin spiritus, which means breath and is also the root of inspire. Spiritual prose is designed to inspire, to appeal to the heart in addition to the mind and above all to move the reader to act, since spiritual experience is empty if it doesnt lead to practice. This kind of prose might seem odd and even inappropriate to some readers who are accustomed to more value-neutral scientific prose, but it is part of what it means to sing science in a spiritual key. What makes it spiritual is its inspirational quality. What makes it compatible with science is its commitment to methodological naturalism. It is indeed possible to be spiritual and scientific at the same time.

Synopsis of Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of OthersThe following synopsis of DAE will provide useful background for the commentaries.

Introduction: Altruism and Evolution. The question Does Altruism Exist? might seem like a silly topic for a book but the claim that it does not exist has a long history in philosophical, political, economic, and biological thought. Add to this that the word altruism did not exist until coined by the humanist philosopher Auguste Comte in 1851 and we have a question that takes into deep intellectual waters. In this book I use evolutionary theory as a navigational guide. The question of whether altruistic traits (defined in terms of action) can evolve has been controversial among evolutionary theorists in the past but has been largely resolved. This book offers a post-resolution account.

Chapter 1: Groups that Work. Two meanings of altruism need to be distinguished, which refer to: 1) how people act and; 2) the thoughts and feelings that cause people to act. These two meanings exist in a one-to-many relationship; any given action can be motivated by more than one set of thoughts and feelings and our preference for one set over another is based primarily on the actions that they produce. Altruism defined in terms of action is closely related to group-level functional organization, which requires members of groups to perform services for each other. We can therefore begin with the question Do functionally organized groups exist?, which is simpler to answer than Does altruism exist?. The answer is yes for both human and nonhuman species. At least some of the time, social groups are so functionally organized that they invite comparison to single organisms.

Chapter 2: How Altruism Evolves. The following premises are so basic that they are unlikely to be wrong: 1) Natural selection is based on relative fitness; 2) Traits that are for the good of the group seldom maximize relative fitness within groups; 3) A process of between-group selection is therefore required to explain the evolution of functionally organized groups. As E.O. Wilson and I put it in a 2009 article, Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary. In a multi-tier hierarchy of units (Multilevel Selection Theory), the general rule is adaptation at any given level requires a process of selection at that level and tends to be undermined by selection at lower levels. These statements are true not only for the highly self-sacrificial traits typically associated with altruism, but also for most of the coordination mechanisms required for groups to function as adaptive units. The balance between levels of selection is not static but can itself evolve. A major evolutionary transitionfrom groups of organisms to groups as organismstakes place when mechanisms evolve that suppress disruptive forms of selection within groups, causing between-group selection to become the primary evolutionary force.

Chapter 3: Equivalence. The controversy over group selection was resolved, not because one side won but because all theories of social evolution (e.g., MLS theory, Inclusive Fitness Theory, Evolutionary Game Theory, and Selfish Gene Theory) were shown to rely upon the same three premises listed in Chapter 2. They offer different perspectives on the same causal processes, rather than invoking different causal processes. Arguing one against the others is like someone who knows only one language arguing that other languages are wrong. The concept of Equivalencetheoretical frameworks that deserve to coexist by virtue of offering different perspectivesshould be part of the basic training of scientists, along with the concept of paradigms that replace each other and the process of hypothesis formation and testing that takes place within each paradigm and equivalent framework. The amount of time and effort saved avoiding pointless controversy would be colossal.

Chapter 4: From Nonhumans to Humans. Answering the question Does Altruism Exist? requires a consideration of humans per se in addition to the evolutionary forces that apply to all species. Our starting point is the concept of major evolutionary transitions described in Chapter 2. In most primate species, members of groups cooperate to a degree but are also each others main rivals. Our ancestors became evolutions newest major transition through the ability to suppress disruptive self-serving behaviors within groups, so that between-group selection became the dominant evolutionary force. Teamwork is the signature adaptation of our species. Teamwork includes physical cooperation such as hunting, gathering, childcare, defense against predators, and offence and defense against other human groups. Teamwork also includes mental cooperation, including maintaining an inventory of symbols with shared meaning and transmitting large amounts of learned information across generations. Cultural evolution is a multi-level process, no less than genetic evolution, leading to the mega-societies of today. The concept of human society as like a single organism has a venerable history as a metaphor, but now it stands on a stronger scientific foundation than ever before.

Chapter 5: Psychological Altruism. The previous chapters were required to make sense of altruism defined in terms of action. The distinction between proximate and ultimate causation in evolutionary theory can make sense of altruism defined in terms of thoughts and feelings. Ultimate causation refers to the environmental forces that act upon heritable variation, winnowing certain traits from many other traits that could have existed. Proximate causation refers to the mechanistic basis of any given trait that evolves. Human thoughts and feelings are proximate mechanisms, resulting in actions that are winnowed by natural selection. Proximate and ultimate causation stand in a many-to-one relationship. Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, any given altruistic act can be caused by more than one set of thoughts and feelings. It is important to know the motives of a social partner to predict how he or she will behave in the future, but insofar as two sets of motives result in the same suite of behaviors over the long term, there is no reason to prefer one over the other, any more than we care much whether a person who owes us money pays by cash or check. Proximate mechanisms that cause people to behave altruistically, defined in terms of action, need not qualify as altruistic, defined in terms of motives. Part of taking cultural evolution seriously means that the same altruistic actions might have different psychological motivations in different cultures. The fate of any given psychological mechanism that leads to altruistic action depends critically on the environment, including the human-constructed environment.

Chapter 6: Altruism and Religion. The secular utility of religion, as Emile Durkheim put it, has been debated ever since religion became the subject of scholarly debate, but the study of religion from an evolutionary perspective has established its secular utility better than ever before. In other words, most enduring religions do an impressive job fostering altruism, defined in terms of action, among members of religious communities. Surprisingly, however, altruism defined in terms of thoughts and feelings is foreign to the imagination of most religions. Instead, religious narratives tend to portray normative behaviors as good for everyone and deviant behaviors as bad for everyone. This portrayal is more motivating and leads to more decisive action than puzzling what to do when a behavior is good for self and bad for others or good for others or bad for self. This begins to explain why the word altruism didnt exist until it was coined by the humanist philosopher Auguste Comte in 1851, as a way to portray his Religion of Humanity as morally superior to the Christian doctrine of original sin and salvation through Christ.

Chapter 7: Altruism and Economics. The concept of the invisible hand in economics, which posits that a society can function well without anyone having the welfare of the society in mind, poses one of the strongest challenges to the question of whether altruism does or should exist (e.g, whether it should be replaced by a price system that relies on self-interest and does a better job of organizing large-scale society). The idea that the unregulated pursuit of self-interest robustly benefits the common good is absurd from a multilevel evolutionary perspective. Nevertheless, nature offers outstanding examples of the invisible hand in the form of societies that function well because they are units of selection (e.g., multicellular organisms or social insect colonies) without their members having the welfare of the society in mind (e.g, cells and social insects, which dont even have minds in the human sense of the word). When applied to human societies, this view of the invisible hand leads to the robust conclusion that policies must be formulated with the welfare of the society in mind, even if the proximate mechanisms that are selected do not require having the welfare of society in mind.

Chapter 8: Altruism in Everyday Life. The broad conception of altruism mapped out in this book can also be called prosocialityany attitude, behavior, or institution oriented toward the welfare of others and society as a whole. Abstract arguments about the invisible hand in economics can be brought down to earth by considering individual differences in prosociality in real-world environments such as city neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. Converging lines of evidence suggest that prosociality is a master variable for human welfare. Being surrounded by highly prosocial people results in multiple assets. Being surrounded by people who are low in prosociality results in multiple deficits. Highly prosocial people are vulnerable to exploitation by people low in prosociality, however, and most people are conditional in their expression of prosociality. In other words, the basic dynamic of multilevel selection plays itself out in everyday life, with the conditional expression of behaviors occupying a role that is roughly analogous to genetic evolution. Hence, the same social environments that would result in the genetic evolution of prosociality also result in the expression of prosociality among behaviorally flexible people. Knowing this is profoundly useful for public policy formulation.

Chapter 9: Pathological Altruism. It is common to think that selfishness comes in good and bad forms but that only good can come from altruism. As soon as we begin thinking about altruism as a social strategy that can evolve under some circumstances but not others, then it becomes obvious that altruism, too, can have pathological consequences. Counseling someone to be altruistic when they live in a social environment that does not favor altruism is like declawing an alley cat. It is the alley (i.e., the social environment) that needs to be changed. Altruistic thoughts and feelings can result in pathological outcomes when evaluated in terms of actions, such as negative codependency. Then we have the basic dynamic of multilevel selection, which causes altruism expressed within lower-level units to become disruptive for higher-level units (e.g., terrorism). These pathologies remind us that altruism is worth wanting only to the extent that it leads to prosocial outcomes at a planetary scale.

Chapter 10: Planetary Altruism. Altruism existsin the form of traits that evolve by virtue of benefitting whole groups, as a criterion that people use to select their behaviors and public policies, and as a broad family of thoughts and feelings that cause people to agree with a statement such as I think it is important to help other people. Yet, this book has been critical of some ways that altruism is traditionally studied. Philosophical discussions and psychological research often place too much emphasis on defining altruism in terms of proximate mechanisms (thoughts and feelings) when a more fully rounded approach is needed that includes proximate causation, ultimate causation, and their many-to-one relationship. Philosophers rely excessively on their own intuition, as if what they regard as altruistic is likely to be culturally universal, whereas cultural variation in proximate mechanisms is expected from an evolutionary perspective. The more fully rounded conception of altruism outlined in this book is needed to solve the problems of modern existence, which require functional organization at the planetary scale. Key insights are that the design principles required for group-level functional organization are scale-independent and that policies that benefit the planet must be selected with the welfare of the planet in mind. In our role as policy selectors, we must become planetary altruists.

Commentary 1The Sacred and the Secular Can Unite on Altruism By Kurt Johnson

As a person with professional training and lifelong career activity in both evolutionary biology and comparative religion (including the contexts of contemplative life and what is often today called sacred activism) I want to recount here what got me VERY excited about the main idea in Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes and the Welfare of Others (hereafter DAE)- and what, to me, comprise its broad and truly historic implications. After all, we are not dealing here with just a new book but a paradigm shift in evolutionary biology itself.

When I first completed a detailed reading and markup of DAE, from both my professional biological and comparative religion backgrounds, I said to myself finally, after decades of sacred activists and social progressives feeling their social idealism was doomed to be an upstream battle against a hostile, unkind, and even cruel evolutionary process, here is a view of evolution, claiming to be the new mainstream, that paints a very different picture one of the evolutionary process preferring structures that serve the well being of the whole and not just the desires of this or that powerful individual or self interest group. What a difference from the reductionist extremes of random-neutral, who knows where its going?, theres nothing we can do or even control and power is the only way (as with old-time Marxist-Leninism, National Socialism or even modern corporate plutocracy)!

Further, I heard the book proclaiming that the development of such holistically serving cultural structures is in our hands, as a consequence of the conscious choice associated with humanitys uniquely sentient process of cultural evolution. In a way, this had Teilhard de Chardins noosphere written all over it.

Further, I saw an explanation of why our world is now full of dysfunctional organizational principles when it could be one filled with functional organization principles if WE took our creative role in the cultural evolution process. Most of my humanist friends had thought we had arrived at todays current dysfunctions somehow by accidente.g. we did the best be could, what went wrong? etc.

For me, on the largest face, this evolutionary altruist view signaled a potential joining of hopes and dreams of both sacred and secular activists alike no matter that one saw a world driven by divine providence (or cosmic self-organization) while the other envisioned just random processes of innovation and natural selection. In the new evolutionary view, as David Sloan Wilson says, both camps couldperhaps be simply positive and, further, share a simply positive emergent world.

After all, this evolutionary process selects directly on actions, not their proximal cause narratives. These narrativesalways a cause of conflictmight, in a truly intelligent Homo sapiens, become quite secondary. And this, I saw, was also the message of Interspirituality, an evolutionary emergence in religion and spirituality which also holds that religious narratives can become secondary to spiritual solidarity around basic shared values, ethics, and ideals at the heart of all the worlds Wisdom Traditions. I elaborated this view in my book with David Ord, The Coming Interspiritual Age, which speculates on how religions similar spiritualism, ethics and value foundations might become part of the worlds solutions, and not either just irrelevant or an ongoing part of worlds divisive problems.

Further, wasnt this view what had always been the great ethical manifold of founding Humanists such as Felix Adler (see, for example, An Ethical Philosophy of Life )? They also believed that ethical and values-related actions could be held in common among people of entirely different religious narratives.

This, to me, made DAE quite revolutionary just as revolutionary as what I was hearing at comparative religion conferences where religions were saying to heck with catastrophic end-of-the-world scenarios, what about constructive beginning-of-a-new-world scenarios? and noting that the latter, if true, were here now, and in our hands as well..

Evolution in DAE painted a very different picture than what the public seems to have assumed is a mainstream science view. I remembered that when doing my evolutionary biology doctorate in the late 70s group selection and altruism were out (as was continental drift, and the bird-dinosaur relationshipboth no brainers today) and the selfish gene and social Darwinism were in. My thinking then, as a younger graduate student, was that the orthodox view was so counterintuitive. So, it was gratifying to read, in DAE, the track by which, finally, group- and multi-level- selection, and all their implications, were now the consensus view.

I was also excited because I am a big utilizer of integral theory and integral vision (from the work of Ken Wilber, Don Beck, and others). Their vision, that all (and very different) kinds of conversations can, must, and need to be on the table globally today from the best of most subjective to the best of most objectiveto me is just common sense. When I heard the co-discover of DNA, Dr. James Watson, say (on TVs Charlie Rose) that understanding consciousness was the next great discovery of humankind but that the worlds spiritual traditions had absolutely nothing to contribute to that conversation, I agreed with Wilber that this was, unfortunately and tragically, the gold standard of ignorance from an otherwise brilliant man. It also demonstrated how dramatically silo-ed our planets worldviews are, precisely at a time when they need to be moving into a convergent conversation.

However, David Sloan Wilson was advising much the same as Wilber that divergent worldviews are all senses of meaning, over time create lineages of meaning, and that all these ways of knowing have a certain equivalence in working out, and working through, a global conversation where all the aspects of who we are as humans are on the table for discernment of our world future and direction.

In July 2015, Wilber and Wilson joined me, and colleagues, at a From Self Care to Earth Care conference in Denver, Colorado. A video of Wilbers presentation is now available on YouTube and, as of this writing, has over 12,000 views. Wilber emphasized that nearly 70% of world religions are stuck at the magic/mythic/literalist level (or style) of religionthe one based on the general rubric of I am right and you are wrong (and, in the conflicts we see in the name of religion, often dead wrong). As Wilber pointed out, the ongoing inherent violence within how religion is most often practiced by Homo sapiens is a global tragedy. It is particularly tragic because the more highly evolved practices of religious spirituality actually often embody the qualities of love, kindness, mutuality, nurturingyes, altruismtaught by the founders of near all of these historic traditions. We must, he said, pay profound attention to the cultural evolution needed to rectify this imbalance. That is, we must address how the practice of religion can cease to be one of the major problems for the worlds future, and become part of the solution. This view is also at the heart of the message of DAE.

Further, at the global cultural level, the problems of the spirituality/ reductionist divide requires serious attention. Today, we have very well-meaning people believing, on the one hand, that subjective/ spiritual experience is an important part of the makeup of human beings (wired into us some even say) and that this dimension must be figured into the collective skillsets of how human beings move forward in the future. Meantime, others believe spiritual/ subjective experience is nothing more than pre-rational superstition, a part of our past, which must be abandoned in favor of our intellectual and technical skills. Subjective experience, whatever it is, shouldnt be taken seriously, other than perhaps the phenomenon of falling in love (again, whatever that is).

This divide is a real, and huge, problem at the global level. Certainly if you talk to a well-meaning, well- and conventionally-educated, yet fully ethical, mainland Chinese citizen, the modern materialist view stands out, as does the antipathy toward that vendor of old-time superstition The Dalai Lama. Never mind, or never mention, all the political prisoners in Chinese jails or The Dalai Lama saying, the problem with the Chinese government is simply that they dont understand kindness.

There can be no doubt that the world is at a divide regarding the kind of future it may have. As David Sloan Wilson warns, if we dont take seriously our sentient role in our own cultural evolution, and select the kinds of structures that promote global welfare, evolution might just take us somewhere we dont want to go, like global political or economic dictatorship.

So, as well, Does Altruism Exist?, along with being a harbinger of hope, is also a great warning shot across the bow for modernity and post-modernity as well, which is entirely another conversationbut one I hope will also occur.

Commentary 2When It Comes to Climate Change, Altruism Better Exist.By Richard Clugston

David Sloan Wilson defines altruism as a concern for others as an end in itself. Even Adam Smith recognized this inThe Theory of Moral Sentiments (he would be horrified to learn how his other book, The Wealth of Nations, is misunderstood today). Smith wrote: How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it.

The contribution of Does Altruism Exist? is critical. Seeing group selection as foundational, along with individual (reproductive) selection is a kind of dialectic that drives us to both individuate and integrate that makes us become fully individual and fully collective. Indeed, if we, you and I, are products of incredible cooperation between many entities on many levels, ultimately producing the great gift of evolutionour consciousnessit is tragic we are so sadly preoccupied with so many trivial considerations.

As Ken Wilber says in his comments on Wilsons work, the arrow of time shoots toward an ever differentiating and integrating identity, which he summarizes as growing up (about learning and knowing about as humanity continues to mature) and waking up (that more enigmatic element in gut and heart that also fundamentally underpins the maturing process of humankind). It is an important synchronicity that Wilsons workpointing to the actual mechanisms of cultural evolution is getting major attention just at the time when Wilber is differentiating these complementary aspects of human development.

At face it is not an easy process, nor one in which it is easy to remain optimistic. Lifes preponderance of suffering, for so many red in tooth and claw, or Auschwitz factor certainly clouds our appreciation of the altruistic, collaborative element. But the contributions of both of these men are asking us to take a look at the whole package.

Overall, across the underlying eco-system or biosphere, there appear to be three basic relationships between organisms in nature: predation, commensalism, and symbiosis. In ecology, commensalism is a class of relationships between two organisms where organism benefits from the other without affecting it. This is in contrast with mutualism (symbiosis) in which both organisms benefit from each other, amensalism, where one is harmed while the other is unaffected, and parasitism, predation, and competition, where one benefits while the other is harmed.

In the sentient realm where Homo sapiens makes conscious choices (call it, if you like, Teilhards noosphere), we then see the challenge of the design characteristics or principles fundamental to creating collaborative social systems that protect and nurture the commons. In this realm arises the Hope (echoing that classic title of Andrew Harveys foundational book on sacred activism) that we can evolve into something better-our great work.

This requires a paradigm shift to an ecological/ evolutionary orientation to life, a new sensibility of Earth as alive, and a restructuring of institutions accordingly (particularly economics). Many have been pointing to the need for a new worldview that moves us out of the mechanism, reductionism, anthropocentrism, utilitarianism of modernity, toward post-secular societies.

Earth systems scientists and cosmologists, nature poets and mystics, religious leaders and ethicists are converging on an understanding of Earth as a vulnerable, interconnected and interdependent living system. We humans are a part of nature and dependent on the vitality of ecological systems for our well-being. Increasingly, scientists and practitioners of diverse spiritual traditions are awakening to Earth as a community of subjects, which deserve our respect and care, especially in an age many now call the Anthropocene.

This is a convergence of new and old, scientific and spiritual understandings of who we are in the Earth community, and how we create mutually enhancing human-earth relationships. Contributions include evolutionary and complex-systems worldviews and new cosmologies, to phrase only a few, Mary Evelyn Tuckers The Journey of the Universe, Albert Schweitzers Reverence for Life, Rachel Carsons Sense of Wonder, the native American connection to all my relations, Arne Naess Deep Ecology, Thomas Berrys Communion of Subjects, Aldo Leopolds Land Ethic, The Earth Charter, and the affirmations of compassionate religious traditions based on new unity consciousness universal Christologies, seeing all beings as Buddhas, and a Coming Interspiritual Age.

And into this arena steps evolutionary science with its declaration that Group- and Multi-Level- Selection are real and select for processes and structures that serve the whole, and not just self-interest groups. We have David Sloan Wilson describing the nuances of the more interior aspects of what propels cultural evolution, within the larger patterns of material evolutions just as Ken Wilber declares that evolution is progressing in all of his four quadrants that is, reality as understood and experienced in all of first-, second- and third-Person and third Person plural.

According to Peter Brown, an overarching paradigm in this new and emerging understanding is an evolutionary and complex systems theory worldview (ECSWV) greatly enriched by developments in thermodynamics, genetics, systems theory, physics etc, especially since WWII. In this framework biological evolution is a special case, which occurs within the context of an evolutionary universe The most fundamental truth in environmental science is that everything is connected to everything else, or that all activities in biological reality, including human activities, are embedded in, and interactive with the whole of the ecosphere [1].

What does this understanding of our group, altruistic, interconnection with all life, our awakening to the soul of things, imply for how we live our lives, organize our communities and workplaces, revise our economic and social policies at all levels of government?

Drawing on David Sloan Wilson and Elinor Ostroms work, it implies that we would identify with and care for the commons, e.g. the atmosphere, oceans, all common pool resources, by conducting our group policy and practice making according to the design principles.

In the 70-year journey of the United Nations, the most recent negotiations over the new (Post-2015) UN Development Agenda actually are manifesting such a concern for the interconnected and fragile biosphere we are part of. And the negotiations (between 193 nation states and other stakeholders) are also, remarkably, manifesting most if not all of the design principles.

As environmental and social deterioration has accompanied rapid economic growth, even the most established governments are recognizing the fact that transformative change is needed, and business as usual is not an option[2]

They recognize we must redefine what development is for. Development both economic and personal and more broadly evolution, is not primarily about short-term dominance and economic gain (thereby owning, consuming and controlling ever more goods and services)-the selfish gene. Rather it is about building those conditions and capacities necessary for full human development for all in a flourishing Earth community. To paraphrase The Earth Charter, after basic needs are met, development should be about being more, not having more. Real transformative change will require the reorientation of development goals to support psychological and spiritual growth and sustainable living. It will encourage those with more than they need to give to those who lack the basic necessities for life.

In September 2015, world governments have adopted new, universal sustainable development goals that incorporate the unfinished business of the MDGs into a broader framework. SDGs are to be the guides (a sort of dashboard) for this transformative change. They are intended as a set of action- oriented, concise and easy to communicate goals that could help drive the implementation of sustainable development. The 13 UN Intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) meetings led to the completion of the Zero Draft of the SDGs in July 2014. Then, various UN offices and civil society organizations analyzed these 17 goals and 169 targets and made recommendations for their improvement.

This extensive process (including the monthly intergovernmental negotiation sessions so far preparing for the Fall Post 15 Summit) has been remarkable in terms of the consensus for seeking transformative change guided by an integrated triple bottom line and determination to place the resultant new understanding of sustainable development at the center of national and international development, starting with United Nations own agencies. In the monthly intergovernmental negotiations, governmental representatives have repeatedly affirmed the need for transformative change guided by a new framework for development that would eliminate poverty, promote the breadth of human rights, ensure equitable and inclusive economic growth-all within planetary boundaries. (UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, Sustainable development Goals Report, 2014 and other sources)

In concluding my comments, I want to point to Pope Francis recent challenge. His Encyclical (Laudato Si) is a rallying point for ensuring that people understand the magnitude of the challenge facing us and for embracing the moral imperative to reorient our hearts and minds as well as our economic and social policies, to create a world that works for all. He terms this integral ecology, which integrates questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Laudato Si challenges us to make three major shifts:

Commentary 3The Wolves of Wall Street and Superorganisms: How Social Justice Should Mimic Our CellsBy Barbara Marx Hubbard,Zachary Stein, andMarc Gafni

The New Paradigm Is Old HatHeterodox evolutionary discourse has long entertained the emergence of what Wilson calls superorganisms. These are emergent phenomena that functionally integrate lower-order organisms as parts, lessening within group selection pressure, making the many into one, and thus fostering the evolution of a new organismic totality. Over the years this idea led many to suggest the (inevitable?) emergence of some kind of new evolutionary eventa superorganism of humans. Wilson is interested to argue that, now, with new evidence, we finally really know that, for example, cooperation can have an impact on evolution via group selection, even as it seems counterintuitive to cooperate at the level of individual selection. Moreover, the dynamic systems and evo-devo researchers have been on to something: emergence often works via symbioses and cooperation, especially at the cellular and ecosystem levels. This provides a new and better platform for understanding human ethical and moral action in evolutionary terms.

We strongly support these directions and expansions in mainstream evolutionary science. We would only like to note here that heterodox evolutionists have already spilled a lot of ink about the role of morality, self-consciousness, and group-consciousness as a factor in evolution. This tradition has spent more time looking into the implications of evolutionary thinking for the self-understanding of the species, and less time working with models of mechanisms and exteriorities.[4] So the question of whether altruism exists has not been as important as questions about the many forms of selfless behavior, as well as the higher levels of moral development individuals can attain while becoming a part of something larger than themselves.

In particular, the focus has been on this question: What would it really mean for our humanity if we become swept up into a superorganism, as if becoming cells organized for the benefit of some larger organelle? This is a profoundly important ethical question, and it tends to evoke, when asked, a religious or spiritual state of mind.

Some us who have been actively asking such questions have also sought to refine the phenomenology of moral consciousness associated with evolutionary emergence in human groups. The key focus is how to strike a balance between what Wilson calls (unfortunately) selfishness and altruism. We call them autonomy and communion. Too much of either and any group is pathological. Too much communion and you get a kind of totalitarianism or coercive fascism. Too much autonomy and you get narcissists and rouges, lawlessness and violence (like the wolves of Wall Street Wilson laments). These are the kind of phenomena studied in the field of conscious evolution, where the evolution of human consciousness itself is taken as both object and subject.

The First Age of Conscious Evolution[5]Everything we know about evolution suggests that it is basically inevitable that evolution on Earth will again shift to a higher level (that is, if it continues at all, which is a big if). This shift will not only be of physical systems, exteriors, but also of interiors, of consciousness. And this evolutionary leap will take the form of a crisis. It is this crisis that we are in the midst of right now. This crisis is not only to do with the geohistory of technology and the limits of the biosphere; it is also a crisis of self-understanding. Consciousness and self-understanding are not epiphenomenalthey are not merely supervening or reacting to a more basic bio-technological basehuman consciousness and self-understanding are driving the global crisis at all levels.

Wilsons book is one that says, in so many words: it is conscious evolution from here on out: we are able to know and do too much to pretend otherwise: we must consciously orchestrate the future of the planet and the biosphere (We may be putting words in his mouth). We agree wholeheartedly! Our generation is in an unprecedented position to take responsibility for participating in profoundly generative and destructive evolutionary crises. The question is: can we understand our crises in cosmic context, as opportunities for the emergence of the unprecedented, and as invitations into a higher form of life? Can we merge and unify as fundamentally just and ethical unity or federation of all humanity in a time of crisis?

Issues of Identity: The Emergence of Unique Self and Unique Self Symphony[6]To make a long story short: heterodox evolutionists and evolutionary phenomenologists have long been concerned with the role of self-consciousness as a factor in evolution. They have found that the key concept needed to foster ethical group synergy and emergence is that of uniqueness. (We have written extensively on the distinctions between uniqueness and separateness in other contexts and fully elaborated the ontology of Unique Self, which has over the last fifteen years re-defined the relationship between eastern and western notions of enlightenment. These are in effect two models of identity that are united in the higher integral embrace of Unique Self). It is one of the few keystone concepts that can bridge the gap between interiors and exteriors, science and ethics, matter and sprit, autonomy and communion. A sense of the inviolability and value of each individuals Unique Self is the feeling of a healthy group. When a group comes together in such a way where no ones unique self is diminished, but all are, in fact, leveraged, there emerges a Unique Self Symphony. This requires all the members to hold the group in mind, to envision their part in the self-organizing and self-orchestrating social reality to which they consent to participate. This a just form of emergent superorganisms because it requires that we care about everyones story. It has the perspective of social justicethe omni-considerate view from everywhereat its core and leverages the benefits of justice to promote further harmoniums evolutionary emergence.

A self-conscious Unique Self Symphony is the feeling of being ethically integrated into a larger totality; having a sense of social justice is having a sense (very literally) for the presence or absence of harmonious social integration. The felt integrity of ones unique self is the core of an evolutionary phenomenology of moral consciousness, especially when a group is in the midst of dynamic autocatalytic closure. To fit into the evolutionary puzzle or story (why is it always a struggle?), the shape required by each individual is unique. Other forms of superorganic closure require violence and will ultimately be undone, unseated not because they are physically unsustainable (although they likely would be), but because they are unbearable for human identity formation and moral development.

This is a great wake up call for humanity. While we have been morally guided by all great traditions to love one another, now we find that pragmatically, if we do not learn to join together in collaboration and concretionin Unique Self Symphonieswe will become one of the many extinct species.

Commentary 4Does Altruism Exist? Wrong Question; Right AnswerBy David Korten

In Does Altruism Exist? David Sloan Wilson accomplishes the unlikely. He addresses the wrong question to arrive at a brilliant breakthrough conclusion essential to the human future.

Though Wilson is too polite to say so, evolutionary biology for far too long has focused on the competitive side of evolutionary processes to the exclusion of the ultimately far more essential and central cooperative dimension. Thus, it has played to an ideological bias of those who would have us believe that unbridled competition for individual financial advantage is the key to human progress. This, to put it bluntly, is the ideology of the psychopath. Our acceptance of this ideological mantra as the foundational premise around which we have organized the global economy, goes a long way toward explaining why we find ourselves on a path to self-extinction.

Wilson is among those taking a deeper look at the data to observe that life is ultimately a primarily cooperative enterprise involving countless interdependent species that together self-organize through processes we barely understand to create and maintain the conditions on which they individually and mutually depend. The very fact that this dimension of life is so self-evident and pervasive perhaps helps to explain why we rarely take note of it. We see the competitive side more clearly, because it stands out so starkly against the background of cooperation.

By stepping back to observe and describe the deeper truth, Wilson makes a crucial, and long overdue contribution to our understanding of life. His work has sweeping implications for every aspect of the organization of human societies.

Life began with the simplest of microscopic cells. Life made its first great advance when these simple cells learned to create more complex and capable cells by interpenetrating one another to join their separate abilities in a single cell. These more complex cells than learned to join and reproduce to create ever more complex and capable multi-celled organisms. Science is only beginning to recognize the nature and implications of the processes involved. These are extraordinary examples of evolutionary advances achieved through learning to cooperate.

Our own bodies are a highly advanced example. We are each the product of tens of trillions of individual living, active, decision making cells, self-reproducing through extraordinarily complex and ultimately intelligent processes to create a human superorganism with capabilities far beyond those of any of the individual of which it is comprised.

The cells of an individual human body may go rogue and engage in a deadly competition with the rest of the bodys cells to maximize their individual consumption and reproduction without regard to the consequences for the community of cells that birthed them. We call the rogue cells a cancer tumor. Unless the rogue cells are removed, the near certain consequence is the death of body, which also assures the death of the cancer. The competitive strategy of the cancer cell provides a momentary advantage while assuring death in the slightly longer term. Our relationship to Earth has become much like that of the cancer cell to the body that birthed and nurtured it.

The success of the body as a collective enterprise of the tens of trillions of cells, depends as well on the coordinated cooperative activities of addition tens of trillions of independent microorganisms that perform a multitude of supporting functions, including breaking down the feed we eat into a form the body can digest. The body also supports them. It is appropriate thereby to think of our own body, not as a single organism so much as a self-organizing cooperative community of organisms. The many complex and interconnected processes by which these many trillions of individual living organisms engage in cooperative self-organization take place entirely beyond our sight and therefore beyond our awareness.

On July 1, 2015, I experienced a stroke. A blood clot lodged in a small artery and cut off blood flow to a small section of my brain responsible for certain vision functions. The brain cells immediately began organizing to create other pathways to get blood to these cells and to compensate for the visual impairment. The healing process continues as I write this commentary on Does Altruism Exist?

It would be ridiculous to describe the response from the undamaged cells as an act of altruism. Rather they naturally do what responsible members of any self-organizing community domobilize to address any threat to the integrity and wellbeing of the community.

This is the larger reality behind Wilsons recognition that the very concept of altruism is the product of a ridiculously simplistic individualistic frame of understanding that views service to another as an act of self-sacrifice. There are countless situations in which the interests of the whole and those of its individual members are so interdependent that attempts to distinguish between service to self and service to others are pointless.

This is the essential nugget of Wilsons conclusion. In the end, he leads us to recognize that the title of his book frames a meaningless question that itself reveals the primitive state of human understanding of one of the most basic aspects of life. He points to possibilities for the organization of human society that go far beyond our current simplistic assumption that our only choice is between a capitalist system based on extreme individualism and a socialist system based on extreme collectivism. In a healthy living system, there is no distinction between the well-being of the individual and that of the community.

In a living community, the health and well-being of its individual members ultimately depends on the health of the community that creates and maintains the conditions essential to the existence of the individual. The basic concept is familiar to the members of traditional tribal communities.

It falls to those of our time to develop appropriate organizational mechanisms for managing relations between self-organizing local communities in ways that serve the needs of the local community while scaling to the global level to maintain the health and vitality of the whole. No amount of money will substitute for the health of Earth. The money serving, profit seeking global corporation has no evident role in a healthy living system.

The key appears to be, as Wilson spells out in his final chapter, to learn to organize on a global scale as a coherent system of self-organizing, self-governing local communities rich in personal interaction and mutual caring. Investment in community building at various levels is essential. The legendary wholly self-reliant individual popularized by Western culture is a fictionand always has been.

We humans will survive and prosper only to the extent we begin to think and act in terms of living systems and in which people organize in integral partnership with the rest of nature as placed based cooperative communities in which humans and other organisms work together to maintain the conditions of their common existence. This is why a society organized around placeless global corporations concerned primarily or exclusively with maximizing short-term financial gain can never secure sustainable livelihoods for all of humanity.

Wilsons work is an essential contribution to moving beyond the simplistic ideological fallacy that serves to legitimate an economic system now in a near terminal state of self-destruction.

Commentary 5Insects Model their Societies on Altruism. We need to become planetary altruists.By Rev. Mac Legerton

Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others by Dr. David Sloan Wilson is a groundbreaking book on the presence and function of altruism in nature, evolution, and the processes of adaptation and social organization. Although a very short book of 149 pages, it is an intense and concentrated read. Recognizing this, Dr. Wilson consistently reviews the progression of the concepts and distinctions that he makes as the reader travels through it. Most significant to me, are the implications of the question, Does Altruism Exist? for social and planetary action. As a grassroots social action practitioner, it is highly unusual to have a book come forward that frames, describes, and validates social action from the perspective of nature and science. Social action is typically framed and argued from the viewpoints of partisan politics, moral responsibility, and religion. So, this is an important book and, in commenting about it I think it is most useful for me to review the major points of the book that stand out for me from perspective of social action.

The basic point of the book is that, not only is altruism a vital part of human nature, but it is also the organizing principle of effective and functional human development and social and planetary action. Dr. Wilson documents and celebrates that natural selection in the evolutionary experience and advancement of humanity is based on the adaptive capacity of humans to act for the welfare of others (and other groups) without benefit to oneself (or ones group) and even when there is the possibility of loss to oneself or ones group.

Dr. Wilson demonstrates that this view of altruism and its place in human evolution is neither nave hope nor idealism. Rather, it is the essential mark and sign of adaptive and functional organization within the human species. He states: Teamwork is the signature adaptation of our species (p. 73). From the origin of life to single and multi-celled organisms, from eusocial insect colonies to human social groups, Wilson asserts: the very concepts of organism and society have merged (p. 71). Wilson describes group-level functional organization in this statement: Improving the welfare of others (the goal of altruism) requires working together to achieve common goals (p. 71).

Group-level functional organization requires certain circumstances and features to exist. Wilson highlights the eight core principles based on research by Nobel Prize Winner Elinor Ostrom that are required for groups to effectively manage their resources and affairs (pp. 11-13). These are: strong group identity and understanding of purpose; proportional equivalence between benefits and cost; collective-choice arrangements; monitoring; graduated sanctions; conflict resolution mechanisms; minimal recognition of rights to organize; and for groups that are a part of larger social systems, appropriate coordination among relevant groups (pp. 65-66). This is a novel development because usually activism is in the position of having to work upstream and against prevailing realities of organizational processes and structuresin efforts to try to achieve some semblance of the characteristics described by Ostrom. Here we are told that these standards for processes and organizational structures should be fundamental in the first place.

In taking this position, Dr. Wilson challenges the widespread notion that human selfishness and greed are the keys to the drive to survive and that the individual human is the premier performance of the evolutionary process. He reflects: The use of evolution to justify social inequality and ruthless competition stigmatized the study of evolution in relation to human affairs for decades following World War II.those who adopt a greed is good perspective believe that we should remove all restrictions on lower-level self-interest. Regulation becomes a dirty word, which is why it is crucial to resist worldviews that depart from factual reality, whether religious or secular, and adopt a perspective based on the best of our scientific knowledge which means one that is rooted in evolutionary theory (pp 146, 148).

Dr. Wilson does not stop at describing a theory of the role of altruism as an organizing principle for action among organisms and human groups in the evolutionary process. He also implements his evolutionary theory and commitment to altruism in social practice. An activist himself, he is President of the Evolution Institute that works with communities, community organizations, and institutions to develop research and social action programs that improve the quality and understanding of human community and systems of service. He states: Understanding how groups become functionally organized is a prerequisite for making the world a better place (p. 143). He goes on to say: We are at a point in history when the great problem of human life is to accomplish functional organization at a larger scale than ever (p. 146). Further, this position is his starting place for organizing what he hopes will become a widely established Prosocial Network promoting this vision and experimenting with the models that might serve it.

In reflecting deeply on social problem-solving and strategies, Dr. Wilson highlights the work of Elinor Ostrom and the focus on small groups as units of functional organization. He states: They are often best qualified to regulate themselves and adapt to their local environments. From an evolutionary perspective, we can say that large-scale human society needs to be multi-cellular. The more we participate in small groups that are appropriately structured, the happier we will be, the more our group efforts will succeed, and the more we will contribute to the welfare of society at larger scales (p. 147).

Dr. Wilson clearly understands the challenges faced among human groups and societies as we function as organisms with the capacity to improve or harm one another and the environments in which we live. In his own life, he models and balances theory and practice, action and reflection. Further, as a scholar who has studied religions and written about them from a scientific and sociological perspective, he understands that a great hope for the future is a worldviewand Altruism appears to offer onewherein both secular and sacred activists can work, hand in hand, in what he calls being pro-social. That would also be an historical development and his book provides a foundation and practice to do so that is grounded in an integral framework. It is fitting that the last words of Does Altruism Exist? will also be the last words of this commentary article: multilevel selection theory makes it crystal clear that if we want the world to become a better place, we must choose policies with the welfare of the whole world in mind. As far as our selection criteria are concerned, we must become planetary altruists (p. 149).

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January 21st, 2019 at 10:44 pm